Oklahoma softball: Batter up! Sooners’ 2023 national title defense starts today

Oklahoma's Rylie Boone (0) celebrates following the Women's College World Series softball game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the UCLA Bruins at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Monday, June 6, 2022. OU won 15-0.2022 Wcws Ou Ucla
Oklahoma's Rylie Boone (0) celebrates following the Women's College World Series softball game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the UCLA Bruins at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Monday, June 6, 2022. OU won 15-0.2022 Wcws Ou Ucla /

The two-time defending national champion Oklahoma softball team begins the 2023 season and its quest for a three-peat this weekend.

Spoiler alert to the rest of the college football world: The Sooners are loaded again this season and are the unanimous No. 1 team in both the D1 Softball and USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll to begin the 2023 season.

Oklahoma loses Jocelyn Alo, the two-time USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year and the NCAA career home run leader as well as a couple other position-player starters, but Patty Gasso’s 2023 squad has five starters who rank in the D1 Softball Top 100.

There is so much talent on this Sooner squad that eight different OU players are on the 2023 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year preseason watch list, nearly one-fifth of the 50-member list.

Gasso is in her 29th season as the Sooners head coach. Her winning percentage at OU is .802 with a remarkable record of 1,394-344-2. Under her watch Oklahoma has won six national championships, including back-to-back titles in 2016-17 and 2021-22. Her Sooner teams have dominated the Big 12 with 14 regular-season championships, including the last 10, and have never missed an NCAA Tournament, dating back to 1995.

The top-ranked Sooners will open the 2023 season in Irvine, California, as one of six teams in the four-day Mark Campbell Invitational. There are four teams in the top-25 taking part in the tournament, including the Sooners. OU will play a doubleheader on Thursday, facing 16th-ranked Duke in the season opener and taking on Liberty in the second game.

OU will play No. 17 Stanford on Saturday, No. 14 Washington on Saturday and finish off the weekend with a game against San Jose State on Sunday.

The starting lineup for the Sooners as they open the 2023 season will include returning players Kinzie Hansen, Tiare Jennings and Jayda Coleman up the middle at catcher, second base and center field, respectively.

Hitting at the top of the order in 2022, just ahead of Alo, Coleman hit eight home runs and drove in 40 and also delivered a .584 on-base percentage. Her .424 season batting average was 23rd best in the country. Jennings, the 2021 National Freshman of the Year, has led Oklahoma in runs batted in the past two seasons and her 29 home runs last season were the third most in collegiate softball.

Grace Lyons, the Sooner shortstop is probably the best at her position in Division 1 softball. She’s back for a fifth season. In her senior campaign a year ago, she hit .401 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs. As good as her offense is, she may be even better defensively.

Alyssa Brito will replace the departed Jana Johns at third base. Brito played left field last season, but she was an infielder as a freshman at Oregon before transferring to OU ahead of the 2022 season. Brito was a valuable addition to the Sooner lineup a year ago, batting .368 with 14 home runs and 40 RBIs.

Oklahoma will have a new first baseman to open the 2023 campaign. Cydney Sanders, a top transfer from Arizona State, replaces Taylon Snow. Sanders, an NFCA First-Team All-American and an All-Pac-12 First-Team selection in 2022, brings another big bat to the OU lineup. She is expected to bat in the two hole behind Coleman. Sanders, who is only a sophomre, led Arizona State with 21 home runs a year ago, which set a program record for a season. Her .952 slugging percentage ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division I softball.

Another top transfer who has joined Oklahoma this season, also from Arizona State, is Alynah Torres, who will start in left field for the Sooners. Like her teammate at ASU, Sanders, Torres also was All-Pac-12 First Team last season. The incoming senior hit 16 home runs last season and drove in 40.

Senior Rylie Boone will bat ninth in the lineup. But don’t let that fool you. She hit .402 in 2022 with two home runs and 27 runs batted in. Her production at the end of the lineup was the perfect set up for the top of the order.

The OU starting lineup features power and speed throughout and should be every bit as formidable as last season.

"“Likely Jayda (Coleman), Tiare (Jennings), then its just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom after that,” said Gasso on OU Media Day on Monday."

As powerful as the Sooners’ lineup is, one through nine, the biggest part of the Oklahoma success the past decade has been the pitching staff, and Oklahoma is solid in the pitching department again this season with three outstanding starters in sophomore Jordy Bahl, Michigan transfer Alex Storako and junior Nicole May.

As a freshman in 2022, Bahl pitched141 innings, posting a record of 22-1 with a 1.09 ERA, 205 strikeouts and 14 complete games. Storako, a redshirt senior, was 25-8 for Michigan last season with a 1.71 ERA and 300 strikeouts in 200 innings.

For a lot of teams in the country, May would be the No. 1 or 2 starter. She has won 30 games for Oklahoma in two seasons and her 1.30 ERA last season was 11th best in the nation. Sooner pitching is also appears set for the future with freshman left-handers Kierston Diehl and SJ Geurin. Diehl was the No. 1 recruit and No. 1 pitcher in the 2022 class, and Geurin was rated the No. 7 pitcher in the class. Gasso announced this week that Geurin will redshirt this season.

Gasso said she will rotate four starters, going with Bahl, Storako, May and Diehl. Bahl, Storako and May all throw from the right side. Diehl is the lone southpaw among the starters.

"“All four of these pitchers can help us significantly,” Gasso said, “and I’m excited about each one of them in different ways. I’m extremely comfortable with any one of them on the mound.”"

This collective group of Sooners is just as good and could be even better than the 2022 national champions. But they still have to prove it on the field.